March 7: Separation is Oppression

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings,
   if you truly act justly with one another,
   if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow,
   or shed innocent blood in this place,
   and if you do not go after other goods to your own hurt,
then I will dwell with you in this place,
   in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.
Jeremiah 7:5-7

Today I have chosen a Scripture reading which out of order of my original Lenten devotional plan. This is because of a flurry of current events which broke yesterday, particularly concerning our nation’s immigration and refugee policies.

I was especially grieved by an interview which new Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly gave to CNN, in which he was specifically asked about the possibility that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would separate children from parents at the border with Mexico.

After talking about how dangerous the trip is from Central America to the US border, Kelly said, “We have tremendous experience of dealing with unaccompanied minors. We turn them over to (Health and Human Services) and they do a very, very good job of putting them in foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States.”

He continued, “Yes I'm considering (that), in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents. ... It's more important to me to try to keep people off of this awful network.”

There is no doubt that the journey is perilous and exploitative of the families which choose to make it. But as with any group of refugees who flee from untenable living conditions, staying put is more dangerous than moving forward. These groups of families are fleeing mostly from Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where violence has spiked in recent years.

Current US policy is to keep adults and children together once they enter the country, and to release them, pending disposition of their cases. The new policy would, if adopted, separate children from their parents after the arduous trip immediately upon arrival. 

I can’t think of a more precise example of what the prophet Jeremiah meant when he warned the Israelites not to “oppress the alien.” A national policy which would break up foreign families as they arrived on our border would be an oppressive policy. It would bring great harm to people who are already vulnerable. 

There is no good or legitimate reason to allow this policy to stand. For one, it has nothing to do with “national security,” since Central American refugees are not potential ISIS terrorists. And the policy would do little to deter families from traveling to the US, since things are still worse in their home country. Furthermore, there is a compelling moral reason for us to take in and shelter those who are arriving. This is what we must do as fellow human beings and as followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s not a crime nor a sin to protect your children. In fact, I would argue that it’s sinful NOT to do everything you can to safeguard and care for your family members. 

The families who end up at our borders are simply doing what you and I would do. What kind of reception would you want?

Prayer: God, you put us into family structures that we might prosper and thrive in a network of support and care. May we, as a nation, protect the families who come to us. Help us not to oppress the alien among us. Amen.

Justice Challenge: Here is a day to put your phone to use. Call your senators and congressperson and tell each of them that you are opposed to the proposed DHS policy of separating families at the border.